Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bored With The Miraculous? A Tale of Three Little Kittens

We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
Numbers 11:5-6 (NIV).

In the waning October sunlight a mother cat and her litter enjoyed the afternoon warmth. The kittens rolled in the grass, played tag and resisted mom's efforts to clean them. Worn out from a hard day of fun they snuggled together and slept.

“Think they'll make it?” I asked my husband Joe as we watched them settle down.

“Hard to tell,” he replied.

Last winter was unusually cold. The birds appreciated the bread strewn across our backyard. Soon unexpected guests arrived; three kittens joined the feeding program. Mom and siblings gone, the trio were on their own. Survival skills still in the developmental stage, the trio delighted in finding food miraculously appear daily; their version of manna from Heaven.

Morton (all white), Hershey (all black) and Oreo (more cookies and cream, but that would be a mouthful) became regulars at Joe's Cafe. The daily offerings supplemented their diet of – whatever. Morton was the lookout. Positioned on the deck rail with an unobstructed view into the kitchen, he'd wait each morning  for the first sign of life. Alerted that breakfast was on the way the kittens would line up for the buffet.

“Corn muffins today – nice texture.”

“Warm raisin biscuits, and with glaze! How tasty.”

Cookies with sprinkles – our favorite.”

Everything was gratefully received and shared with their feathered friends. Former adversaries ate at the same table. Breakfast expanded into lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. Cats and birds enjoyed the extended seating times in peaceful co-existence.

Spring arrived. The kittens, older and more adventurous, were veterans of outdoor survival. They broadened their territory; expanded their palette. We noticed a subtle but distinct shift. No longer as thankful for the daily rations, they'd become picky.

“Raisins again – we had them yesterday.”

“Croissants – we're tired of them.”

“Don't you have any doughnuts?”

Their attitudes turned markedly ungrateful. When food was put out they'd sniff, take a bite, turn up their pink little noses and leave.

“Let the birds have it.”

“Leave it for the black Labradors. They're dumb. They'll eat anything.”

The peaceable kingdom relationship with the birds ended badly. Things were no longer the same. Our furry friends, like the Israelites, tired of the everyday provisions that appeared from nowhere. The menu was too predictable and boring.

We strive to reduce God to a formula. If we can predetermine how He'll act we can reason our way out of a life that demands faith. Our cats on the back deck and the Israelites demonstrate this very principle. God in a box grows stale; gratitude devolves to complaints. Give us something more spectacular. Even when He does comply with our desires, we're not satisfied. No matter what, it is never enough to suit us.

Perhaps we don't see God move more because we're blind to the miracles we're already receiving daily. Taken for granted, His acts disappear into the landscape of our lives unnoticed. No longer on center stage they fail to capture our attention.

This winter is proving to be as cold as last year's. The cats come for handouts and still maintain their persnickety attitude. I doubt they'll change, but I can. I need to be more attentive and sensitive to God's daily blessings: sun for warmth; air for breath; food on my table and a roof over my head for starters. I can be thankful for and fascinated by everyday miracles. These become the foundation for receiving even greater things from God.

How about you? What has become so commonplace in your life that you forget to give thanks for it? In what ways is your life better than others who have less than you do? How about those who have more than you? What has God given you or done for you that all the resources in the natural world can't procure?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


...my servant Caleb has a different spirit...” Numbers 14:24 (NIV).

Recently I heard Pastor Mike Parsons from the UK discuss genetic and DNA manipulation. Fortunately for the science challenged like me, he kept it simple. Two years of struggling through high school biology and chemistry confirmed what wasn't in my future.

Pastor Mike broached the subject of cloning and posed a few interesting questions. What would happen to a clone when it died? Without a spirit, where would it go? I'd never consider this. With the advent of 3D printers capable of reproducing organs from human tissue is a complete human clone far behind? It might be closer than we think.

Many Christians oppose cloning for a myriad of reasons, but practice it in everyday life. How many times has a church or a ministry found a successful method of evangelism, church growth – take your pick – and now we have the latest Christian craze.

Many years ago a large church in South Korea experienced explosive growth and still maintained personal contact with the members via home fellowship groups. Soon churches worldwide adopted some form of this model. Our home church at that time instituted a similar program that achieved a measure of success. As far as I know, no one else replicated the results of the South Korean church. Many tried, but the plan fizzled or just limped along.

On a more personal level, have you ever tried to emulate someone else in order to achieve the success they've attained? Have you attempted to squeeze yourself into a box that kind of looks like them and feels nothing like you? I have. It didn't work.

We're inclined to look for shortcuts. It's easier and faster to replicate what works for others than to discover what's best for us. When organizations or individuals try to clone someone else, there's no spirit in it. We however, want to save time, energy and resources. There's no need to reinvent the wheel – right?

God created people not clones. We're each unique with a specific destiny and purpose only we can achieve. Why try to adapt another person's methods to fulfill our call when we're not the same? What Holy Spirit ordains and breaths life into for one individual will produce God designed results. We need to get on board with Holy Spirit if we want God not good ideas.

The only reason for churches or people to copy cat someone else is an unwillingness to find out from God what they should do. The Lord steadfastly refuses to be reduced to a formula – He's too much of a creative genius. He doesn't go on extended vacations to recharge. He hands on all of the time.

In order to take his inheritance of the Promised Land, Caleb needed a different spirit. This close friend of Joshua could have mimicked Moses' successor and hoped for good results. He resisted the temptation to take the easy way. He followed God's lead and succeeded.

What about you? How have you fallen into the trap of comparing yourself to others? Which of their behaviors/strategies did you try to make work for you? How can you better use your time with God to discover His plan for your life? Why not stop right now and ask God what He thinks about you and your situation? He may change your course completely or just tweak a few minor things. Either way, you'll have the Spirit behind you who brings life. Wouldn't you rather be the person God designed you to be than just a clone?

p.s. I've included a link to Steve Taylor's song about clones in the church. It may make you wince but there is truth contained in the lyrics.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Third Verse of a Hymn

Yet I have this against you: 'You have forsaken your first love,'” (Revelation 2:4 NIV).

“One day on our way out of church, she turned to me and said, 'Sometimes I feel like the third verse of a hymn.'” Immediately I knew what she meant. In our church, we sometimes skip the third verse of a hymn if the service is running late. 'I feel like the third verse of a hymn' was Mom's way of saying she felt left out. My mother's unique ability at description was intersecting with her common problem of feeling lonely.”1

It seems God felt the same way: overlooked, forgotten, left out – and this was by the church. How did this happen?

The Ephesians weren't slackers. The preceding verses of Chapter Two contain praise from God for their activities. Hard workers who had no tolerance for wicked men, they stood firm in the face of pressures and hardships. This church did many things right and therein laid the problem. The Ephesians lost sight of the Lord of the work and focused on the work of the Lord.

Their failure isn't unique. It's easy to be so busy for God that time to spend with Him somehow evaporates. Ask a pastor (maybe not your own) how much quality time with God does his/her schedule permit. Don't be surprised at the enormous demands they face daily – and that's just church business - not life in general. Cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, texts and other social media increases their exposure to those in need of instant help. Down time for any reason, like time spent with God, is difficult to carve out.

How many Christians, if they were honest, would admit their time with God's not what it should be (whatever that means)? Maybe more than you'd think. To prove their allegiance and commitment to the cause, schedules are packed with things to do for God – activity instead of intimacy. God found this unacceptable with the Ephesians and He hasn't changed.

We need to make a shift. Focused time spent with God produces greater results than lives cluttered with good, necessary works. Mike Bickle from IHOP, Kansas City believes lovers will always outwork workers. A deeper relationship diminishes the pressure to perform for God, others and ourselves. Attention directed toward His priorities frees up time and resources to accomplish tasks sans burnout.

God needs the permanent top spot of our “to-do” list. Forsake good things to obtain the best. At first this may feel awkward and uncomfortable; the urgent is loathe to relinquish its tyrannical hold. Any who purpose to know God, not just know about Him, never suffer disappointment. They discover the object of their affection. God's pleased too because He really enjoys their company.

How about you? What changes can you make to allow more quality time with God? How will this improve your relationship with Him? What kinds of questions will you ask Him during your extra time with Him? How do you think this will impact your life?

The opening quote is from David Fessenden's book, From Concept to Contract. Plan to write a book? This is a must read. A writer and editor, David gives practical insights into things to do before you start to write your book and continues thoughout the process to publication.

1David Fessenden, From Concept to Contract (Galax, VA: Sonfire Media, 2011) pg 14

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Look and Live

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: 'For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved '” (Genesis 32:30 NKJV).

Alone. Above him the night sky sparkled with stars. The air blew colder and Jacob wrapped his cloak about him even tighter. Tomorrow he would face Esau. Tonight the solitary figure pondered what the future held for himself and his family.

Unexpected company arrived. Blindsided and grabbed from behind Jacob flew through the air and hit the ground. The hard landing rattled his bones. Dazed, he shook his head, clearing it just in time to see the mysterious assailant baring down on him. This time he was ready.

The two wrestled all night long. At times the desert marauder possessed the upper hand but in the sky's first twinges of sunrise, Jacob overpowered his aggressor. Pinned to the ground the man appeared beaten.

A searing pain rocked Jacob's body. With a final blow his opposition wrenched Jacob's leg bone from its hip socket.

Let me go,” the man said, “it is almost daybreak.”

Jacob's encounter with God at Peniel contains a key for successful living. Jacob didn't dodge an assailant instead he found the ultimate life preserver.

For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved” (emphasis mine).

The Old Testament reveals a belief held by many ancients; face to face encounters with God brought death. Ever wonder why? My theory is Enoch's disappearance.

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24 NIV).

That's flying first class.

I understand a belief based on Enoch's experience that close encounters with God prove fatal. What other plausible explanation is there for someone who's here one moment and then gone? Keep God at a safe distance and you just might live a long life.

God's not afraid to tinker with our well intentioned misunderstandings of Him and His ways. After Enoch's translation, God repeatedly demonstrated He was approachable. Noah interacted with God and received plans to build an ark. His obedience saved humanity and the animal kingdom from the flood. Abraham walked, talked and negotiated with God. Moses spoke to Him face to face. He and several others went to heaven and ate there. The Old Testament is rich with accounts of personal encounters with Our Heavenly Father.

Jacob discovered his life was preserved by his encounter with God. We New Testament believers boast we possess a better covenant. In the Old Testament supernatural visitations and activities were normal. Shouldn't we have the same, if not greater?

Counterfeiters don't waste time and energy making pennies; the risk is too great and the return is too small. Satan cannot create but he'll copy God's handiwork and add his own perverted twist. There is spiritual charlatanry but we must not dismiss all as fraudulent. Early church history contain practices now frowned upon and labeled New Age. Supernatural manifestations, angelic and heavenly being encounters, visions, trances and so forth occurred on a frequent basis. These were part of a dynamic relationship with God.

Exhausted from the all night struggle, Jacob tightened his grip on the stranger's garment. After all the man had put him through, his opponent wouldn't get off lightly.

I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Like Jacob it is time for the Church to contend for, regain and embrace our spiritual heritage. God's kingdom works on a higher plane than logic, reason and natural law. These are useless if one wishes to understand how He operates. God is capable of protecting us from deception. He will not violate our trust.

The world faces enormous problems on many fronts. Solutions requiring unconventional methods will need to come from God Himself. Current events necessitate a willingness on the Church's part to rethink what poses as normal Christianity. Faith in action looks risky sometimes. Like Jacob, we also can see the face of God and preserve not only our own life but also the lives of those around us.

Photo: Google Images